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VIBERT: Bernier casts long shadow over convention

Jim Vibert
Jim Vibert - SaltWire Network

The Prime Minister, apparently, is both an international gadfly and a virtue-signalling revival preacher on the world stage, and Canadians are suffering for it.

Conservative MPs, at a policy forum kicking off the party’s national convention in Halifax Thursday, had barbed criticism for Justin Trudeau and the mess they say his government’s made of international trade and foreign relations.

But the shadow of Maxime Bernier hung over the room, and that was before delegates learned that the Quebec MP was taking what’s left of his marbles and going home, leaving a Conservative Party he said is too morally and intellectually corrupt to redeem.

It made for a raucous start to the three-day convention.

Even before Bernier’s sudden departure from the Conservative Party, he’d been making waves with tweet storms decrying the “radical multiculturalism” and “extreme diversity” policies of the Liberal government.

Those statements drew criticism from many of his then-colleagues in the Conservative caucus.

But Bernier’s tweets also helped fill the room for the trade and immigration policy forum where Conservatives can be forgiven for expecting some fireworks. They didn’t materialize. At least not in the forum, where the party’s immigration critic, Michelle Rempel made just one passing reference to Bernier, without naming him.

She said claims that Canada is “too diverse” are not supportable.

The fireworks were waiting when delegates emerged from the forum to learn that Bernier, who finished a razor-thin second to Andrew Scheer in last year’s leadership race, held a news conference in Ottawa to announce he was quitting the party, would start one of his own, and lambasting his former leader and caucus colleagues for lacking political courage.

Not surprisingly, a sampling of delegates found no agreement with Bernier’s charge that the Conservative Party has deserted conservatives.

In the policy forum, Ontario MPs Dean Allison and Erin O’Toole raised the alarm over the Liberal’s handling of trade negotiations with the United States, noting that Mexico and the U.S. are negotiating, and Canada is not at the table.

Allison says Canadian businesses are hanging on by a thread and if the trade war with the Americans continues, many will fail, others will relocate.

The government has been a “profound failure” from the beginning of the process to renegotiate a North American Free Trade Agreement.

Allison criticized the Trudeau government for responding to the Americans’ opening position in the NAFTA talks with “virtue signalling” about indigenous peoples and the environment, placing untold Canadian companies and Canadian jobs in jeopardy.

The Trudeau government replaced the smart, principled foreign policies of the Harper government with catastrophic grandstanding on the international stage, and the result has been the deterioration of relations not just with the United States and Saudi Arabia but, according to O’Toole, Trudeau has soured Canada’s relationship with New Zealand, Australia, Japan and other nations, as well.

The most common response Canada’s Prime Minister gets to his lectures and preaching on international events are eyes rolling in capitals across the globe, the Tories said.

Trudeau’s much criticized trip to India, where the Prime Minister put on an ethnic fashion show was so bad “even the CBC had to say it was bad,” after American TV networks called the junket a “slow-moving train wreck,” O’Toole said.

Canada is headed for economic trouble beyond NAFTA, Allison added, because the country is becoming increasingly uncompetitive.

While business taxes are falling in the United States, the Trudeau government is planning a massive carbon tax that will further erode the competitive position of Canadian business and industry.

First term Saskatchewan MP Garnet Genuis said the prime minister has a “post-national” view of the world, when the most durable, successful societies have always been grounded in “civic nationalism.”

He drew the distinction between civic nationalism and “ethnic” nationalism. The former celebrates cultural and ethnic diversity while embracing shared civic principles and values.

The Conservative’s positions on trade, immigration and foreign relations begin with criticism of the current government, and sprinkle in a little nostalgia for the Harper days, followed by some statements of principles that sound pretty good.

They could also be characterized as platitudinous, lacking in clarity and designed not to offend, which is about what Bernier accused them of.

Max Bernier is gone from the Conservative Party, but it may be a while before the party gets to move on without him.

Jim Vibert, a journalist and writer for longer than he cares to admit, consulted or worked for five Nova Scotia governments. He now keeps a close and critical eye on provincial and regional powers.

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